: I’ve been thinking about how to bring reality TV to the news.
Of course, you could try to argue that news already is reality TV. But, of course, we know better. TV news and everything that feeds it is spun-dried, homogonized, pasteurized, purified, prepackaged, precooked, prechewed, commoditized, co-conspired, and repeated a hundred times a day. It’s as real as Disneyworld.
So here’s my concept for Reality News:
Take a bunch of citizen reporters — moms, grandpas, students, poor people, immigrants, ugly people, webloggers… people who would never otherwise get on TV except on American Idol or Survivor — and send them out on the stories they want to cover to get the answers to the questions they want to ask with camera crews and trucks with big network letters on the side — and dare the powerful to turn them away.
This does Michael Moore one better, for this isn’t an obnoxious publicity vat just trying to get more fame and more fortune. These are real people, consumers, voters, citizens.
So send them to the headquarters of the latest company ripping off customers or stockholders and dare the PR people to turn them away. Or send them to any government agency (I nominate the FCC these days) or any politician’s office to demand answers to their questions about what they’re really doing for us.
Even if they are turned away, that would make great TV — we’d have a great time sneering at some slimy PR guy sent down to stonewall the citizens — and soon enough, the powerful would have to realize that they’re smarter to let the citizens in and information out. Pretty soon, you’d see the citizens sitting down to real conversations with company presidents and senators and newsmakers. Why, I bet you’d even see our citizen reporters interviewing the President, before long.
The beauty of this is that the citizen reporters won’t be trying to build a relationship with news sources; there won’t be any conflict of interest here.
And by all means, let’s make it interactive: Let us propose our own questions from the Web. Let us nominate citizen reporters and pick the best and fire the rest.
I guarantee you that you’d see compelling news you won’t see elsewhere. And you’ll see other news shows respond to this competitive threat by trying to get more, well, real.
: Dave Winer has another take on reality news.
: UPDATE: Jeff Sharlet has a great story about being a reporter who didn’t know better, from the comments:
…And I wouldn’t worry about amateurs getting rebuffed by PR people. One of my first jobs in journalism (a point at which I was, essentially, an amateur with a paycheck) was covering naval courts martial in San Diego. I didn’t know my editor had sicced me on the local Naval press office just to bug them, with no more hope for my success in gaining access than he’d had for the last several rebuffed reporters.
So the PR guy blew me off, and I thought I was going to lose my first job. I called again. And again. Not knowing any better, I kept calling up the chain of command, yabbering about freedom of the press, etc. Til finally I got someone in the Pentagon who called someone who called someone — etc. — until the local PR guy called me, with apologies, and anytime access to the low level courts martial not normally deemed newsworthy. Which ended up becoming the subject of stories about race wars on aircraft carriers, sex and the chain of command, and truly draconian military drug laws. Newsworthy, indeed.
I wonder if now, as a more experienced journalist, I’d be so persistent — I might dismiss that PR guy as a dead end. But amateurs don’t know when to quit. The 9/11 widows are a perfect example of the power of amateur news gatherers…